Academic excellence: a commentary and reflections on the inherent value of peer review.

Author:Roberts, Thomas J.


"The mistake, of course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a crude means of discovering the acceptability-not the validity- of a new finding. Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review. We portray peer review to the public as a quasi-sacred process that helps make science our most objective truth teller. But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong."

--Richard Horton, Editor of the British medical journal, The Lancet.

The process of peer review is generally considered essential to academic quality and is widely viewed as fair and equitable. Despite this sentiment peer review is not an infallible end. Many are quick to point out that peer review is too often controlled by "elitists" or "gatekeepers" whose influence can be deemed as arrogant power mongering. In terms of books or manuscripts the peer review process is generally controlled by an editor who typically selects reviewers and controls what is passed on for continued review and potential publication. In short, the editor directs, leads, and makes final determinations in regard to what will be published. Granting agencies typically recruit and select a panel of experts to engage in the review of grant proposals. Colleges and universities have peer review committees that make recommendations in regard to whether or not individuals should be promoted through the professoriate based on their overall scholarly contributions. The peer review process, both in terms of books or manuscripts and through granting agencies, involves individuals who presumably have knowledge and expertise in a closely related field to that of the author(s) of a manuscript and/or a Principal Investigator (PI) of a grant proposal. While areas of study and scientific inquiry are vast, those who possess expertise in narrowly focused fields are few and far between.

Academic peer review is the process of subjecting an author's scholarly work to the scrutiny of others who are considered experts in the same subject area. Pragmatically, peer review refers to the work done during the screening of submitted manuscripts, funding applications, promotional portfolios, and awards. The process provides for confirmation of meeting accepted standards and confirming the quality and impact of the scholarship in a specific subject area. Scholarship that has not undergone peer review is likely to bc considered of lesser quality than peer reviewed scholarship despite whether it really is or not.

Peer review is not perfect; but successfully completing the process through publication or award is widely deemed one of the most rigorous and prestigious forms of scholarly accomplishment. Publications and/or grant proposals that have not undergone peer review are likely to be regarded with suspicion by scholars, professionals, and peer review bodies. This general sentiment is based on trust and faith placed in individuals involved in the peer review process; therefore, ethical obligations as it pertains to peer review at every level are extremely...

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